Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 3, Episode 5 - Tim Raue - full transcript

A chef from Berlin talks about his childhood, growing up, getting involved with cooking and how he rose to the top of German chefs.

[Tim Raue] Some weeks ago,
I was talking to my fiancée.

We had some of the first discussions
about life

and... and what we're expecting from life.

I told her, "I need to be successful."

And then, she called me egocentric.

And then, the first thing I said,
"Why? Why egocentric?

That is not me."

And I looked for
the proper meaning of the word.

I saw it means
you build your own universe

in which you are the center point.

And it's 100% how I live, how I am.

I am egocentric. [laughs]

And I'm proud of it.

[opening theme playing]

[in German] All right, let's go!

[indistinct chatter]

Finish everything,
so we can start arranging everything.


Don't think.
Just do what you're told.

[in English] Tim has always been
one of the most, um, insisting...

No, insisting is not the right word.

[in German] Come on. Come on.
Take it and then chop-chop.

Come on!
Pull! Pull! Pull!

Move your fucking ass
and bring me the palette knife.

[in English] Tim is one of the most...
[takes deep breath] tense...

No, let's start again.
That's crap.

[in German] Look, guys!
Stand like this! Nothing else.

-[in English] We do it again.
-[Ursula] Well...

He can be an arrogant bastard.

He is not mincing his words.

[in German] Take the plate.

You come here with the plate.
You put the plate right here. Okay?

[Ursula] Tim is not against
a little controversy.

He likes being provocative.

It doesn't necessarily make you
the most popular chef.

But if Tim Raue
didn't exist for Berlin's food scene,

you'd need to invent him...

because he represents so much
of what Berlin and food is all about.

[Dr. Stefan Elfenbein] Tim is perceived in
other parts of Germany as controversial.

But of course,
Tim is a typical Berliner.

The Berliners all...
We're always seen as difficult, different.

So the way he acts is strange.

But it is very much Berlin.

[Ursula] Tim has always been
totally ambitious and very outspoken.

And that has certainly been hard
on a lot of people around him.

But I think that's
due to the way he grew up.

It must have been really hard for him.

Tim grew up in Kreuzberg,
one of the toughest parts of Berlin.

It was considered a neighborhood
where you would not go.

He fought in street gangs.

He had hunger sometimes.

He was a street kid.

Now, he has become
the best chef in Germany.

[Julien Walther] The image that's
associated with fine dining in Germany

is a very stiff atmosphere...

and classical French cooking.

Tim wanted to make something different.

He was one of the pioneers
to use Asian flavors

and put it in a fine dining restaurant
in Germany.

His wasabi langoustine displays
his ability to surprise you.

When you eat the langoustine,
the flavors are so spicy.

It's like...
Tim punching you in the face.

[Stefan] Tim is one of these icons
and beacons of Berlin.

You can understand Berlin
through his story.

He's the most important chef
in Berlin by far.

[in German] It tastes like nothing.

It's not going to infuse the fish.
It has to be hotter. It's too sweet.

You can't taste it.

It's cooked well,
but it's missing the oomph.

[Tim in English] When I entered
the kitchen... I was nothing special.

I was one of thousands.

What I learned later on is,

if you have a thing
which makes you one of a kind...

people are interested about you.

At the beginning of my career...

I made the decision
that it's better to provoke...

and to overdo it...

than to be average...

and have no one recognize you,
no one want to write about you.

[in German] Nothing.

Not hot at all.

Not hot, guys.

[in English] Of course
I want to provoke. Yes.

It is my personality.

I'm not the one
who's sitting in the corner, is silent.

[in German] You have to pay attention.

It sucks when everything
tastes like nothing.

Then our food will become irrelevant.

It tastes like diet food.

[in English] Sometimes,
I'll overflavor because I want to provoke.


[in German] A little bit more.

Twice as much
as you have already used.

It has to burn.

[in English] I want to awake the people.

"Here's Tim. I'm different.
Look at what I'm doing."

I want my food to really stand out

from everything what they have
around the world.

It's my way to express myself,

to express my personality.

[birds chirping]

[Ursula] About 130 years ago,

Berlin was the fastest-growing city
in the world.

People moved to the city
from all of Europe.

And they would bring their food,
their recipes

and their preferences with them.

That's when the whole food culture
really, really grew.

[indistinct chatter]

Berlin in 1930 was, maybe next to Paris,
one of the big food cities in the world.

It was an exciting time.

[airplane engines whirring]

But the war changed everything.
Berlin was destroyed.

And then, the Berlin Wall went up,
and Berlin was cut into pieces.

It was locked away.
It was an island in Eastern Europe.

And there was no way
to get fresh products.

And so,
Berlin was not about food anymore.

When Tim Raue grew up there,
the Wall was still up, in the '80s.

He grew up in one of the toughest parts
of Berlin, in Kreuzberg,

which was surrounded by the Wall
on three sides.

So it was locked away.

And there was not even an idea
that this could change.

It was a dark situation in history.

[indistinct chatter]

[Tim] Hello. Hey.

In the age between three and nine,

I was growing up
in the poorest part of Berlin.

I was living with my mother,
who was really in poverty.

My mother was a nice
but intellectually-limited person.

She was not able, really,
to care about a child.

So, in the age of nine,
I went to live with my father.

And... the problems began very fast.

My father struggled with his job.

He became really aggressive...

and starts to abuse me.

He did that sometimes twice per week,
sometimes daily.

I went to a hospital several times,
or to the doctor.

I was bleeding out of my ears,
from my eyes.

I was nine years old.
My father was beating me.

I was alone.

And at that time,
I used my pocket money...

to go in the supermarket
and to buy myself food.

It was an escape
from my ordinary world

to a place where I only had...

the taste, the smell,
the textures of food.

It was like my own universe.
The place where nothing can hurt me.

[in German] Three zanders.
Hurry up. Table eight!

Just take it.
Table eight. Chop-chop!

[indistinct chatter]

[Stefan] It is considered
a very tough school

to go through Tim's restaurant.

The way he talks to his chefs
can be rough.

[man in German] Caviar is ready.

I don't give a fuck.
Just make the fish.

[Stefan] But he is an incredible leader,

and it needs clear language to lead.

In Berlin,
we have the term Berliner Schnauze...

that means you openly say what you think
and you do what you think you have to do.

Berliners just don't think
about a certain politeness.

They think about the honest communication
in that very moment.

[in German]
What's missing is a lot of salt.

[Stefan] If he has a chef, a young chef,

who thinks he is wonderful,
but he isn't...

well, he certainly immediately knows that.
Tim tells him.

[in German] It tastes a little weak.

[Stefan] But at the same time,
he has created incredible chefs.

Some of the best chefs in Berlin.

[in German] Very nice!

-Now bring it to a short boil.

[in English] It is really important to me
that people can trust my word.

If I hire a chef, it is mandatory
that I give him a handshake.

That is our contract.

And after that,
I will take care about you.

Whatever happens.

Sometimes I can be really mean...

[mutters indistinctly]

...but I'd never cheat them,
never betray them.

I'm very straightforward.

[in German] It's very good.

Those two just need
a little guidance still.


[indistinct chatter]

[Tim in English] Before I moved
from my mother to my father,

I was really nice, I was charming.

I didn't steal at that time,
I didn't hurt anyone else, I...

It was nothing bad, what I did.

But after these years of being abused...

something changed.

If you give violence to a child,
if you hit them, if you beat them,

you cannot imagine what that makes.

It is like a nuclear bomb.

I had so much hate,

and it was growing,
and growing and growing.

I was not able to handle it.

That was when I became violent.

At that time, I became part
of the street gang called the 36 Boys.

It was a bunch of guys
searching for fights

to see who is tougher,
who's leading the pack,

who's leading the city.

We was fighting with other gangs,
was beating people.

It was doing robberies.

I was seeking for violence.

I was seeking for the moment where
I can bring someone down, can break him,

and feel like I had control of my life.

If I hit someone with a fist
and it's not working,

I would take the chair,
take the bottle, whatever it takes.

Bring him down!

I was really a fucking evil, mean boy.

So, from the victim...

I transformed
to the one who was the criminal...

was the aggressor.

[indistinct chatter]

Many Germans have
a difficult relationship toward food.

Which means
they do not focus on the food itself.

In Germany, everything that goes
beyond getting nourished...

good ingredients, flavors...

they are often regarded as unnecessary.

So, when it comes
to fine dining restaurants,

people want the experience.

They focus less
on what's on the plate.

They want to experience
something really special.

The classic fine dining experience.

They want to explain
to their friends afterwards

that they have been offered, uh,
20 different varieties of... of bread,

different bottles of water,
that the service fulfilled every wish.

Tim is one of the first chefs
who stripped off all those things.

[Stefan] Restaurant Tim Raue
is a fine dining restaurant.

But you have to put it into perspective.

It is fine dining in Berlin,
in a Berlin style.

They have the dog underneath the table,
and the servers wears jeans and sneakers.

It is a different atmosphere.
It's not a temple anymore.

Tim created his own universe...

because he never cared about rules.

[indistinct chatter]

-[speaking in German]


Muci, remember when we used to eat kebabs?
They never looked like this.

We've all improved, too.

[speaking German]

Are there any special ingredients in it?

Including Turkish peppers?

Only the best. That's the truth.

[Tim in English]
Some of the other guys in the gang

started to become
professional criminals...

doing armed robberies, selling drugs.

But some of us
was smart enough to realize

that's impossible to do that
for the next ten, fifteen years.

I was sure then, I have to learn a job.
I have to do something. I have to work.

[indistinct chatter]

[man] Okay. Next!

[Tim] In Germany, after the tenth grade,

you go to a center
where they ask you questions,

and at the end,
they offer you three jobs you can do.

And for me it was gardener,
painter, or chef.

-[speaking indistinctly]

And I had no idea what that means.
But I loved to eat.

And I said,
"Okay, yeah. Let's go for trial days."

In the earlier days of my apprentice time,

the teacher was standing in front of us,
and she said,

"Today I want you
to create your own dish."

And I was like, "Okay... [sighs]
What are the things I like?"

I teared a sheet of paper.

I love figs,
so I was writing down "figs."

There was vinegar from Italy,
called aceto balsamico.

That was something very special
and luxury, so I write it down.

We had a pastry chef
who showed me how to caramelize walnuts,

which I loved from that moment on.

And the next week in the school,

the teacher brought to all of us
the ingredients we was writing down,

so everyone was able to create his dish.

I was the first who was ready.

It looked awful, but then everyone
comes around to taste it.

And the teacher was like, "Wow."

He said, "The fruitiness of the ripe figs,
the crispiness of the walnuts..."

He said, "It's amazing."

Everyone who tried it said,
"Wow, fantastic."

And I said, "Okay, that must be a talent."

I realized that I had the chance with food
to break out of my normal life,

and get as far from the street
as it was possible.

[indistinct chatter]

[Tim] Mmm.

[in German]
So, now you can all take a minute,

and I'll teach you
how to fillet a fish properly.

What normally happens
is you cut away the stomach flap

and then pull out bones.

There's nothing to say
against this per se,

only that it's not interesting to us,

because what we want
is located here and here.

That is the pure fillet.

This is why, at one point,

I developed a way to cut up the fish
in such a way that it works for us.

[in English] At that time,
I started to look for a job...

and I was really full of ambition.

So I applied as a chef
to restaurants in five star hotels.

I didn't get any response of them.

Then I tried to do it in some
proper restaurants and four star hotels.

Also didn't get any response.

And after three months,
nothing came back.

I didn't know really why.

I was really frustrated.

[in German]
And we have a perfect white fillet.

[in English] And then the human resources
manager of a five star hotel...

she invited me to talk.

She told me,
"I think you didn't get any responses."

I said, "No, why you know?"

And she said,
"The reason is you're from Kreuzberg.

You're from a no-go area."

I didn't realize that anyone
was looking about that.

I thought if they see me
and if they let me work,

that they'll know I have ambition,
I have passion, I'm a strong person.

But they said,
"You will never get that.

No one wants you.

You have to find
a really shitty place...

where they really need people
and they're willing to work with you."

I wanted to be
in a Michelin star restaurant.

But a lower class restaurant was
the only way how I could start my career.

[indistinct chatter]

[in German] Like this?

[chef] I don't think we've ever
arranged food differently.

Except for the dots.
Those sometimes get bigger or smaller.

Depending on how salty
Christopher's dashi turns out.

Did I put too much salt
in something again?

[chef] As always.

[Tim in English]
I started to work at Châlet Suisse.

It was a low-level,
Swiss-themed restaurant.

In the kitchen,
there was a lot of aggression.

There was pressure.
There was hate.

There was tension.

It was like on the street having fights.

At the beginning,
I had no talent for cutting anything.

I had no skills, but I was able to fight.

It is a competition.
You can win or lose.

And I'm there to be the winner
at the end of the day.

In the kitchen,
the way to climb the ladder

is that you start as commis chef,
the next is demi chef,

then chef de partie,
junior sous chef,

sous chef, and head chef.

Hey, good morning.

When I was a commis,
I wanted to get the demi chef position.

So I looked at the guy
who was the demi chef, and I fucked him.

The whole day.

I was earlier than him.
The jobs he did, I made it faster.

I went to the head chef and I said,

"Oh, I saw you get the onions
from the demi chef,

but don't you think I cut nicer?"

[speaking in German]

[in English] Colleagues didn't like me,
and they was right.

I was the biggest pain in the ass
for all my colleagues.

Hi, Paula.

I did everything for power,
because power showed me

that I was able to go as far
from the street as it was possible.

[in German] Not bad!

[in English] I wanted to survive.
I never wanted to go back where I'm from.

[in German]
So, a beautiful good morning, gentlemen!

[speaking in German]

[in English] That makes me become
a head chef in the age of 23.

I was the one who was standing in front,
announcing the orders,

telling the others what to do,
when to do.

I was the toughest.
I was the strongest.

I was leading the pack.

[in German] Let's think about...

[chef] Mmm-hmm.

...what we could do with the salmon.

It looks like we could make
sushi or sashimi out of it.

[chef] Mmm-hmm.

[Stefan] Around 2003,

Tim Raue was putting things together
nobody ever had put together.

Imagine you have a lobster together
with beets from the fields out of Berlin.

He wanted to prove what he can do.

[Tim] Mmm-hmm.

[Stefan] Because he wanted
to show his identity.

[Tim] Mmm-hmm.

[Stefan] It was new. It was bold.

But it didn't really work.

-[in German] What was that?
-That was papaya with this.

[Stefan] Food critics looked down on him
because the food was strange to them.

This was when fine dining in Berlin
was traditional French cooking.

So as much as he wanted
to discover who he is...

it was a shocker for most people.

[Tim] In Europe, you have the guide
called the Gault Millau.

Gault Millau, for me, was really important
because they can decide

who was really the best chef in Germany.

At the end of the year,
the guide was released...

and it said,
"This guy, he thinks he's the greatest,

but the dishes,
they're totally overspiced.

He thinks he's really creative...

but... it's more or less shit,
what he is doing."

I wanted to be a great chef.

But they didn't understand
my way of cooking.

I realized that if I want
to become bigger...

I had to change something.

[indistinct chatter]

[Tim in German] Today I'm serving
foie gras with matcha green tea.

Please go ahead and try it.

Many thanks.

[Tim in English]
I was cooking at the Swissôtel.

At that time, I was not self-confident
with what I was doing.

[indistinct chatter]

So I asked myself, "What are
the really successful chefs doing?"

At that time, German chefs
tried to cook French fine dining

with some German influences.

So I started studying
that kind of cuisine.

[in German] Have a good service.

[in English] Any euro I had, I spent
for cookbooks, for fine dining magazines.

I soaked everything in.

I was working 16, 17, 18 hours per day.

I didn't watch any TV.
I didn't know anything about the world.

It was just cooking.

[Stefan] At that time, Tim developed
his food, and it got subtler and subtler.

And at a certain point,
Tim Raue started to become big.

[Tim] At the end of the year 2006,

I got a call from the editor
of the Gault Millau.

He told me that...
they will award me Chef of the Year.

I was one of the youngest
to ever get that.

It was a point
where I had everything what I want.

The restaurant was packed.
We had a Michelin star.

Everyone thought from the outside view,
everything is right...

but I was not happy.

I didn't know what it was,
but there was still something missing.

[indistinct chatter]

[speaking German]

What is the special taste
in the dish I had earlier?

[chef 1] That's a secret.

[speaking German and laughing] Okay.

[chef 2] You should try this.
It's shrimp.

With or without shell?

You can eat it in the shell
if your stomach can take it. It's crunchy.

-[both speaking German]

[Tim in English] At that time,
I had my first trip to Asia,

and went directly to Singapore.

It was the first time...

that I went in a restaurant
which was fine dining with Asian food.

It was like... How can I say?

From nothing to paradise!

Singapore was the capital
of progressive Chinese kitchen.

There was a lot of chefs mixing
the traditional Cantonese way of cooking

with flavors of Thailand,
with products from the West.

And the perfection of the Japanese way.

I went to a restaurant
where I ordered the steamed cod...

served like a Chinese steamed fish dish,

but on the top,
there was a Thai-style mango salad.

It was sweet, sour, crispy.

It was like a roller coaster on my mouth.

I was so amazed,
I ordered that dish four times.

It really blew me away.

After the fourth day,
what I understood was,

the French idea of cooking, it's not me.

It is harmony,
all the dishes has to be balanced, and...

I don't have that harmony.

I'm not that kind of balanced.

And it was a moment of awakening,
because it was so new.

The spiciness, the fire,
the aggressive flavors.

I thought, "Yeah, that's me."

When I came back to Germany,

I was still doing a mix
of Spanish avant-garde,

French fine dining...

And I saw my restaurant,
and I said, "Fuck...

I have to do something
completely different."

I decided to kick out
all the shitty French fine dining idea.

I create my way of cooking.

Louder, more present,
provoking the guests...

to go over their regular borders,
what they have about taste.

I wanted to take Asian dishes
served in a modern way...

and I give it the Tim twist.

[Julien] In Germany, people normally
associated Asian flavors

with, uh, going to a Chinese restaurant,
and not fine dining restaurants.

So, opening his restaurant was a risk.

[Tim] People around us,
friends and the journalists,

they said, "Oh, why are you doing that?

You're so great.
You're so successful.

The restaurant is fully packed,
and why you want to change?"

And they cannot imagine
that we will be successful.

I thought,
"Give them all a fuck, and change it."

The Asian food was much more fun.

I loved it

with every detail of my body, my soul,
it was... it was me.

[Stefan] Tim, he did not only
create his own universe,

he created
a completely new style of cooking.

At the same time, he had an audience.

And the neighborhood he served
had changed.

There was all this influx
of young people...

and they enjoyed food.

There was suddenly a light coming
into the city which didn't exist before.

The Berliners realized,
"Wow, food is exciting."

And so it started
that Berlin turned into a city

with this reputation
of having crazy food.

Berlin took off.

It was a new Germany.

Tim Raue was one of the people
to make Berlin

the most exciting city,
food-wise, in Germany.

[Tim] In the last years,
Berlin really turned around.

Now, it's really a lively, vibrant place.

If I describe Berlin today, it's like me.

It's rough. It's hard.
It doesn't please everyone.

On the other hand,
if you really look behind that...

there is good.

I am part of that city.

It's my home.

It's the place I belong.

The main restaurant, Tim Raue,
that is the heartbeat of my life.

Everything is like I want it.

Every detail, every glass...

every dish.

It is me.

I create my own universe.

If I walk in the restaurant,

that is the most
successful moment for me...

because I see that I was able
to control this bad energy...

and turn it into something
which is beautiful.